A former leading member of the Provisional IRA, who was facing charges of sexually abusing a child, has disappeared.

The man, who is now 68, had been extradited from Spain in 2016 to face four charges. He was subsequently granted bail, but it is believed he has fled the country.

The case came to light when a woman contacted gardaí in Dublin some years ago alleging she had been sexually assaulted by the man on four separate occasions in Dublin in the early 1990s, when she was a young girl.

At the time of the alleged abuse, it is believed the man was a very senior member of the IRA.

He is originally from Belfast, but had been living in Dublin for decades.

Gardaí also believe the man may have been a significant figure in the IRA Southern Command, which oversaw units in Dublin, the rest of Leinster and Munster.

It is believed he was a significant presence in the IRA in Dublin at the time Martin Cahill, known as The General, was shot dead in 1994 in a gun attack in Ranelagh, which was blamed on the IRA.

The man was also once close to Bobby Sands who led the Hunger Strikes in 1981.

He left the leadership of the IRA in 1996 shortly after the murder by the IRA of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare in Co Limerick.

He moved to Spain where he remained until being extradited 20 years later to face the charges of sexual assault.

After the man was found living in Spain, Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions directed that he be charged with four counts of sexual abuse of a child.

He was arrested in February 2016 in Spain and extradited to Ireland. He appeared at Dublin District Court on 30 April 2016, where gardaí objected to bail.

Despite garda objections he was granted bail, after coming up with substantial sureties.

He was released and had to sign-on every day at a Dublin garda station pending his trial, and did so every day for over a year.

He disappeared two days before the start of the trial in June 2017.

Due to the nature of the charges against him, gardaí have been unable to publicise the case, but it is understood there is an alert through Interpol, however the man's location remains unknown.

This investigation is separate to a wider investigation, which has been ongoing into allegations of sexual abuse against a number of IRA members.